Abstract: Illite diagenesis in Tertiary and Mesozoic shales in the Bergen High area, northern North Sea, was studied using mineralogic, isotopic, and computerized thermal modeling techniques. The Tertiary shales are dominated by smectite, with lesser amounts of illite, kaolinite, and chlorite. At present burial temperatures of >70°C smectite is absent, and the shales contain abundant lath-shaped illite which yields a mixed-layer illite/smectite (I/S) X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) pattern. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) indicates that the illite laths increase in abundance and thickness with increasing depth; XRD patterns indicate a progressive increase in the illite component of the I/S. The deepest samples were found to contain long-range ordered (R=3) I/S, which showed platy particle morphology with the TEM. K-Ar ages of most of the <0.1-µm-size illite separates imply that illitization was a relatively brief event affecting a thick sequence of sediments during late Cretaceous to early Paleocene time (65–87 Ma); however, measured ages were affected by trace levels of detrital Ar contamination and do not represent the true age of diagenesis.
Several methods of quantifying Ar contamination were used to correct measured ages to obtain a reasonable estimate of the true age of diagenesis. The corrected ages are imprecise due to uncertainties in quantifying the levels of sample contamination, but generally suggest a Paleogene (38–66 Ma) period of illitization. In contrast, simple kinetic models of smectite-illitization suggest much younger ages of diagenesis (0–40 Ma at the Veslefrikk field; 0–60 Ma at the Huldra field). The timing of the diagenesis and the morphologic aspects of the authigenic illite suggest that illite precipitated before late Tertiary compaction and resulted in a decrease in fluid permeability. Low trapping efficiency of early Tertiary sediments, vertical escape of warm fluid from the Brent sandstone, and high heat flow may have promoted illite diagenesis in the shales prior to deep late-Tertiary burial.